A tale of two halves: Surge crushes Jeffs

For 45 minutes, it looked like the visiting Amherst College Lord Jeffs might spoil the Lions’ home opener, but a four-goal surge in the second half propelled the women’s soccer team to a 5-1 victory at the TCNJ Adidas Classic on Sunday.

A back-and-forth first half left the two teams locked in a 1-1 stalemate, but the No. 3 Lions (3-0) kept their persistent assault aimed at Amherst’s junior goalkeeper Lili Ferguson. Ten minutes into the half, sophomore midfielder Casey Caruso scooped up a missed shot and drilled it past Ferguson into the bottom right corner of the net.

“It was exciting,” Caruso said of her game-winning goal. She leads the team this season with three goals.

And just like the tropical storm that washed out Saturday’s slate of tournament games, the Lions proved when it rains, it pours. Moments later, freshman forward Brenna Rubino made it 3-1 when she redirected a corner kick from senior midfielder Erin Cunliffe, earning her first collegiate goal.

Corner kicks would be the Lord Jeffs’ undoing. The Lions racked up 10 in the second half, and senior forward Jamie Kunkel made the visitors pay, firing a shot past Ferguson to make it 4-1 with 13 minutes to go. Sophomore midfielder Gina Colaiti picked up the assist.

“We got fired up in the second half and went back to the way we play,” Kunkel, who had two goals, said after the game. “We just played to feet. In the first half we started playing kick-and-run and we got ourselves tired. In the second half we caught our breath and concentrated on finding the open girl.”

Freshman forward Eva Gimello rounded out the scoring frenzy as she pushed the lead to 5-1 on an unassisted goal, the first of her college career, with 15 seconds remaining, Lions’ head coach Joe Russo was impressed with his team’s ability to change styles and dominate the second half of the game.

“I think we regained our composure (and) changed our shape in the midfield,” Russo said. “We were playing that way in the first half, but we got away from it.”

It was the Lord Jeffs who lost their composure in the second half, allowing the Lions 19 shots on goal in the second half and 26 over the course of the day. Ferguson had seven saves in a valiant effort, but the ineffectual Jeffs allowed the home team too many chances while mustering few opportunites themselves. The visitors managed only two shots on goal the entire game, including none in the second half.

The Lions jumped out behind a Kunkel score 18 minutes into the first half when the senior smashed in a crossing pass from Rubino. Five minutes later, Amherst freshman forward Livia Rizzo knotted the game at 1 when she scored her first career goal. Junior midfielder Jillian Whiting earned the assist.

The Lions have won three in a row now, outscoring their opponents 13-1. Despite his team’s dominance, Russo believes these early season tournaments have been a solid warmup for the team’s upcoming New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) contests.

“I think they prepare us very well for the NJAC. I think it’s going to be as challenging as it ever has been this year. I think (New York University) is good, (and) Amherst can be a very good team,” Russo said. “We just need to get healthy and stay healthy for a while.”

The Lions will look to extend their winning streak to four in a non-conference matchup with Haverford College Saturday at 3 p.m.